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Virginia Republicans roll out early and absentee voting push ahead of legislative elections

Virginia Republicans are launching a coordinated early voting initiative ahead of this fall's critical legislative elections

Sarah Rankin
Tuesday 11 July 2023 22:28 BST
Election 2023 Virginia Voting
Election 2023 Virginia Voting (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Virginia Republicans on Tuesday launched an early and absentee voting push ahead of this fall's critical legislative elections, an initiative intended to boost ballot access measures that GOP lawmakers in the state have sought to roll back in recent years.

Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin described the program during an appearance on Fox News and in subsequent video announcement, saying it would help voters understand their options for casting a ballot and increase turnout. Every seat in the General Assembly will be up for grabs in November in an election cycle that will determine party control of the currently divided Legislature for the final two years of Youngkin's term.

“Republicans got to stop sitting on the sidelines and allowing the Democrats to do a better job of voting early. I’m tired of us going into elections down thousands of votes,” Youngkin, who also advocated for early voting during his winning 2021 campaign, said on Fox.

The initiative dubbed “Secure Your Vote Virginia” will be a data-driven effort aimed at turning out Republicans and swing voters, Youngkin's PAC said in a joint news release with Republican legislative leaders, the state party chair and the Republican State Leadership Committee. Zack Roday, director of the Republicans' coordinated campaign, told reporters at least $1 million would be spent on the program.

The push is in line with a similar "Bank Your Vote” initiative by the Republican National Committee for 2024, a get-out-the-vote campaign that also aims to boost early voting techniques that some in the party have criticized as ripe for fraud.

Virginia Republicans did not directly address former President Donald Trump or his persistent falsehoods about widespread fraud in the 2020 election, which polling continues to suggest has taken a toll on Republican voters' confidence in elections. But state party chair Rich Anderson said in a statement that the new program would help assure voters that voting absentee by mail or early in person is “easy, secure, and necessary.”

Virginia voters don't register by party, but analyses based on voting history have routinely showed a partisan gap in early voting in recent years, with Democrats dominating.

"It’s time for us to stand up and make sure our votes are counted," Youngkin said on Fox.

While curtailing early voting has not been a top legislative priority for Youngkin, House Republicans have recently sought changes or wholesale repeals of some of the Democrat-enacted ballot access measures they are now pushing.

In 2020 and 2021, Virginia Democrats who at the time were in full control of state government passed a sweeping series of voting reforms, ending the state's ID requirement, creating a 45-day early voting period, implementing same-day voter registration, making Election Day a state holiday and creating a permanent absentee list for voters who want to automatically receive a ballot for every election in which they are eligible to vote.

Republicans have since tried to curtail or end some of those reforms, arguing that doing so would boost voters' confidence in elections. For instance, in 2022, the GOP-controlled Virginia House voted to repeal the creation of the permanent absentee list, something Roday told reporters Tuesday would be a key part of this year's push.

The 2022 repeal bill and other Republican-proposed voting reforms have been blocked by Democrats who currently control the state Senate.

“We welcome the Virginia Republicans’ newly discovered interest in promoting democracy,” Liam Watson, a spokesperson for the Democratic Party of Virginia, said in a statement Tuesday about the new program. “Of course, we wish they had shown up in support of early voting and vote-by-mail years ago, instead of consistently voting against reforms designed to strengthen democracy in the commonwealth.”

House Democratic Leader Don Scott called the Republicans' agenda “blatant hypocrisy.”

When asked if the initiative should be interpreted as newfound support for the Democrat-enacted voting laws, Matthew Moran, executive director of the governor's Spirit of Virginia PAC, told reporters that Republicans were simply playing by the rules.

Moran and other political aides, who met with reporters for a discussion about the legislative elections, said the program would include outreach to all factions of the party, citing for example a GOP lawmaker expected to discuss the initiative on a right-wing radio show.

Youngkin, who continues to be mentioned as a possible 2024 presidential contender and has declined to decisively rule out a bid, has staked a great deal of political capital on the outcome of the November elections. Moran suggested Tuesday that anything less than a full sweep would be seen as a failure.

“Our mission is to hold the House and flip the Senate,” he said.

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